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Virtual Museum of Canada The Making of Treaty #8 in Canada's Northwest
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Precursor: Focus 1899

Exploring the Past


Cree WomenAs the first explorers and settlers arrived in the Americas, relations between them and the land's original inhabitants, called "Indians", were relatively friendly. The First Nations contact with the European explorers differed according to region; but in general, First Nations people served as guides to the newcomers, leading them through forests and along rivers, and trading posts quickly became commonplace. As settlers arrived, however, more land was needed, and sharing with the "Indians" was not an option the Europeans considered, coming from a world where taking and keeping was the order of the day. In order to gain the land and resources they wanted, the vastly different newcomers had little choice but to co-exist with the First Nations people. Eventually, treaties became the answer to the Canadian colony's quest to intrude on a land already lived upon by a people who came long before them, a legal device to obtain land from native occupants. For the First Nations people, these organized land surrenders meant little, for the concept of land ownership was relatively foreign and incomprehensible to them.

In the 1700s, British and French fur traders began penetrating these areas, and slowly transformed the First Nations way of life. European traders did not bring women with them, and soMetis Family ties were made with the First Nations people through marriage to their women, and the Métis (or "half-breed") people were born. Throughout the fur trade, Europeans and their native counterparts forged a relationship, since the fur traders needed to adapt to the native way of life as much as the First Nations people needed to adapt to the fur trade. Before European traders appeared on the scene, the First Nations people found themselves acting as middlemen in the trade, and they slowly became increasingly familiar with European goods and services, especially its material culture. Despite the changes that the fur trade brought to the First Nations culture, however, their independence and continuity of their culture was not threatened. European traditions were only selectively adopted by the First Nations people, and only further served to develop a content, working relationship between the two peoples.1

Reprinted from Vision Quest: "Oti nekan," Treaty 8 Centennial Commemorative Magazine, with permission from Tanner Young Marketing Ltd.

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